Monday, December 10, 2012

Practice the positive to outrun negative thoughts

Running is many things to me: my stress relief, my emotional check-valve, my church. Not being a religious person, being out on the trails provides me a spiritual reset when the game gets to be too much. If you and I run together, you’ll see. There’s no small talk: I want to get to the heart of the matter and make some decisions so I can get back to being my happy, supportive, reset self.

A recent family conflict that somehow became all about my mother reminded me, as a daughter and a runner, how negative emotions can sneak into our heads and take hold. Daily runs are good medicine against the dark clouds in our lives.

Racing, however, has a way of bringing up hidden things we try to ignore. It is often said that racing is 50-80% mental and I agree wholeheartedly.

Practicing our race performance (like it is a gymnastics routine or any other competitive sports event) is extremely important for success on race day. It doesn’t matter if “compete” means to finish a new distance, to achieve a new personal record on your favorite distance or winning a race.

For your best race-day performance, here are several things to practice:

1.     the distance
2.     race pace
3.     conditions (running at the same time of day as the race, wearing the same gear, eating the same food)
4.     a positive mental state

This last item deserves to be expanded on. A positive mental state may be a very personal and unique experience, but these tips work for me and will probably work for you:

Before the race
Know the course and what spots will be easy mentally and which to be prepared with your positive mental thoughts. On a course I haven’t run before I often review a map of the elevation profile. I plan which places I will push hard and which places I will run more conservatively and be prepared to fight against negative thoughts. During the race I carry this map with me and refer to it often to remember my strategy and what’s coming up next.

Be sure to have a memory of a great running day cued and ready. Know in your heart that if you did it once, you can do it again!

At the start
Pre-race focusing.
Do not talk to or listen to other people at the start because you will invariably be standing next to someone in a negative state of mind, and they will talk to you to try to lessen their nerves. Bring a music player and listen to your own music. Smile to yourself and think of your good running memory.

Listen to calming music. Do not get sucked into the pumped up, rock and roll music the race director has chosen: it might make you sprint out of the gate. It is normal to feel nervous and jittery and on tapered legs you will be itching to GO. Relax, breathe and start much more slowly than what feels right. On the start line, slow is really your normal pace; it just doesn’t feel that way. Once the field has thinned out a bit, find the race pace you practiced. Use your breathing, your watch or your heart rate as indicators.

During the race
Visualize yourself as happy and effortless. When you see a friend or a photographer, beam a smile and wave. When a song you love comes on, let it lift you up. All of these moments will create a habit of positivity.

Pushing up the final hill.
Know that each race will bring some bad spots—everyone has them! You won’t feel good and this isn’t a sign of anything; it is normal, can be predicted and therefore can be prepared for.  You can drink enough to avoid dehydration and take in some calories to sustain you in longer events, but every so often a negative thought just sneaks in. Think to yourself that whatever the worry is, right now what you can do is “keep moving forward.” A personal mantra that I say is “I’m doing it! I just have to keep doing this!” Let those negative thoughts pass you by and remember, “I love to run!”

Janel Lanphere has been a member of Team Run Flagstaff (and the former Team Altius) approximately five years and in that time has reduced her half-marathon PR time by 14-plus minutes.